Mills signs wind-at-sea ban amid lingering skepticism from fishermen
After pressure from Maine lobster boats, Governor Janet Mills signed a law permanently banning the development of offshore wind power projects in Maine state waters, but it did not come without concessions.
By law, new wind projects are now relegated to federal waters.
LD 1619, sponsored by Sen. Mark Lawrence (D-Eliot), states that new offshore wind developments are permanently prohibited in state waters, but will be permitted in federal waters if, by March 2023, the office of Governor’s Energy develops and proposes a planned research strategy to guide the development of such projects.
The act establishes the Offshore Wind Research Consortium (OWRO), a subdivision of the Governor’s Office of Energy, to organize necessary research projects on the effects of new wind developments in the Gulf of Maine.
The Mills Bill originally proposed a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind projects. But through compromises and legislative amendments, the ban has been, with few exceptions, permanently extended. These exceptions included time-limited research and development projects and other smaller demonstration projects.
His initial plans were met demonstration hundreds of Maine lobster boats who have warned of the potentially disastrous impacts that new unstudied wind developments would have on Maine’s fishing industry. Even now the law has been criticized.
Although the moratorium in state waters, where up to 75% of Maine’s commercial lobster fishery takes place, is a victory for Maine lobsters, those in the industry are still concerned as to how wind projects in federal waters could make lobster harvesting more difficult.
Although the compromise added two representatives of the lobster industry to ORWO, Mills did retained its plan for an experimental 16-square-mile wind farm in federal waters off the coast of Maine, made possible by the passage last month of LD 336, also sponsored by Lawrence. The state’s waters extend only three miles off the coast, and this new farm would be somewhere between 20 and 40 miles off the coast of Maine, in the Gulf of Maine.
In January, a gathering of groups of fishermen published a statement saying they “understand and support the need to develop clean renewable energy sources, but do not share the governor’s vision for achieving it through precipitated offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine.”
Wasting no time to get the rushed project off the ground, Dan Burgess, director of the governor’s energy office, said they would announce the administration’s preferred location for the new farm within the next week.
More research should be done on the effects of such a farm on lobster in the region before the state hastily culls a full package, potentially disrupting ecosystems in one of Maine’s regions. the biggest economic drivers.
As shown in the graph above from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Maine lobster industry is a key economic player. In 2020 alone, Maine lobster boats harvested more than 96.5 million pounds of fresh catch. This represents more than $ 400 million in revenue last year, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic.
Notably, the next gubernatorial election in Maine will take place in November 2022. Mills is likely feeling the warmth of a potential challenger, as a few of his recent vetoes have shown.
As described in his press release, Mills enacted the measure with the support of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, environmental and labor groups, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
The measure is an emergency bill, however, and requires the approval of two-thirds of each chamber of the legislature to pass it.
While the ban is a victory for now, Mills’ next moves towards offshore wind must be watched closely as future development plans take shape just off the coast of Maine.